Why Am I Standing In My Own Way?



My older brother and I did not get along well as children. As adults, we have a good relationship but well into our teens things were smoothest when Mark simply pretended I didn’t exist and I did my best not to remind him.

As we got older a strange thing happened.

When my brother came home from university to visit he started asking me if I wanted to shoot a game of pool with him, always just the two of us, always very late at night. I don’t know what magic hovered over that pool table, but at two in the morning, Mark and I spoke as equals. He asked good questions and he listened. When he made suggestions, I considered them and found his advice was actually pretty good.

The game would end and the next morning over breakfast we’d snap back into our patterns a little leery and unimpressed with each other. But there were a few life-changing conversations that happened over midnight pool—one of the biggest being where I would choose to attend university.

I was very academic and when it came time to choose a university, my grades were paying off. I had my pick of schools and I fell in love, early and deeply, with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. If Canada had an Ivy League, Queen’s would be in it. It was the hardest school in the country to get into and I’d done it. I had my early acceptance letter. All I had to do was say yes.

But during that last year of high school, I started hearing about this small school on the west coast—Trinity Western University. There was a group of five kids from my church that went out there together and it was all anyone could talk about. Mark went too. I remember looking through his yearbook and thinking that they all looked like they were having the best time and it planted a seed in my mind. What if I went west instead? What if I said no to Queen’s and yes to a small liberal arts school?

I agonized over the decision, but even in my struggle I knew the dye was already cast. I was going to Queen’s; that had been decided ages ago. But that little school on the coast called out to me and I kept turning back around to consider it.

One night at the pool table, Mark asked me about it. I laid out my argument, careful, precise, with Queen’s the only real choice. Mark stood there, leaning on his cue and barely even had to think about his answer. He turned to me and said, “Look, don’t go to Trinity if you don’t want to, that’s fine. But if you don’t go, understand that you’re the one who said no. You’re the only person who stood in your way.”

You are the one who said, “No.” You’re the only person who stood in your way.

I cannot tell you how many times those words have echoed in my head. There have been so many situations where I talked myself out of things. I self-sabotage as a way to keep myself safe. It’s a faulty strategy, one I’m learning to fight against, but it has been a favourite weapon in my arsenal for years.

So why do I do it?

The short answer is: I’m afraid. I doubt my worth and I’m afraid that if I try other people will see that I shouldn’t be here, that I’m not qualified, that I’m in the wrong place. I can see them in my head pointing and laughing. Some of it is fiction and some of it is from memory. Taken together, it’s a powerful, poisonous brew.

Fear keeps me paralyzed under a lie that feels a little like safety. “This is a good place,” I think. “It’s familiar. I can make a life under these conditions.” But it was never the point to just eek out a life. God does not call us to a life of thin soup and cold shoulders. But it’s a place I banish myself to because it feels doable. At least I know for sure I can pass muster here. I’m enough for this. It sounds so sad written out loud like that. It is sad and it’s not what I’m here for.

Some people are natural risk takers, and some of us have to fight our natures and do it anyway. Fear. Self-doubt. Worry. Anxiety. These are the chains I attach to myself to keep me from rolling away. When everything feels like a storm it’s always time to take cover. But if you live that way for too long, sometimes it’s hard to see when the sky clears. You forget how to tell the difference between a windy day and a hurricane. Everything feels like a threat. It’s exhausting.

So how do I move out of the way?

For me it takes community. When I can’t see myself clearly, I need to be in the company of other people who see me from a different angle. I’m an introvert, so I tend to want to keep my close circle small, but my greatest joys over this past year have come in widening that circle. When I stretch out my arms to others and I’ve found that they are reaching out to me too.

It’s hard to mistake the storm in the teacup when the person beside you says, no, see it’s just a puff of wind. Even the dark isn’t as scary when there’s more than one of you standing in it.

In the eyes of the people I know and trust, I see a much truer reflection of who I am, what I’m capable of, and where I might go in the future. I’ve come to realize that I can be an unreliable narrator in my own life. I don’t always see things as they are. I interpret the shadows through fear and scarcity. But the ones who love me see with their eyes wide open. I’m learning to trust them enough to ask them to show me what they see, and I’m starting to see myself in a new light.

I don’t need to keep my life small in order to be safe. I don’t need safety to be my number one deciding factor. There are grand adventures waiting out there, but only if I can find the strength to unlock the door from the inside. It’s a journey to unlearn a lesson that took years to learn in the first place, but it can be done.

Recently my older brother sent me job opening and encouraged me to apply for it. My initial reaction was to recoil. The job was huge and impressive and I thought there was no way I would ever be considered for it. I was just about to dismiss it and tell him he was crazy when I paused for a moment. Mark knows me pretty well these days, and I knew his intensions were kind. So instead of saying no, I asked him a question. “Help me to see it,” I typed. “How do you see my skill set preparing me for a role like this?”

He sent back a long message filled with specific examples of why he thought I could do it. It was so encouraging to see it all written out like that. He really thought that this was an option for me. With a little borrowed courage I took a deep breath, and sent an email to enquire more about the role. I have no idea if it will come to anything, but I took a step toward the possibility instead of away from it and that is a victory.

I got out of my own way.